On March 18, the last Volkswagen Phaeton rolled off the line at the company's so-called "Transparent Factory" in Dresden, Germany, concluding a production run of nearly 15 years.
The ultraluxury sedan with a VW badge and a starting price of just under 90,000 euros was the over-ambitious brainchild of former group Chairman Ferdinand Piech. The model failed to reach its sales targets and also failed to transform VW's brand image in the U.S.
A few facts about the Phaeton:
- It was first shown as the D1 concept at the 1999 Frankfurt auto show. While close to the production car, the D1 featured a hatchback. "When our competitors praised the concept, I knew I had taken the right decision," said Piech, then VW's CEO, of the decision he'd already made to go with a traditional three-box design. Piech thought the praise was purposely misleading.
- The glass-walled factory where the Phaeton was virtually hand-built had capacity for 20,000 vehicles annually, with a plan to increase output to 35,000. In 15 years, VW built 84,253 units.
- When then-Audi of America chief Axel Mees said at a 2004 press event that the Phaeton's poor sales were due to Volkswagen "underestimating the weakness of the brand," he was immediately sacked.
- A year later, VW CEO Bernd Pischetsrieder yanked the Phaeton from the U.S. market as part of his power struggle with Piech. Pischetsrieder was soon gone.
- The factory has been turned into a "center for E-mobility"; VW says it eventually will be used to build cars again.
- The company says it is working on a second-generation Phaeton. According to its customer website, it will feature a "long-distance, fully electric powertrain and forward-looking assistance systems" and will display "modern and emotional design."